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Myeloma Overview

Myeloma Link 

Connecting African American Communities to
Information, Expert Care, and Support

As black Americans are at twice the risk for myeloma as whites, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has created Myeloma Link to increase access to education and treatment for myeloma in African American communities.



  • Myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. 
  • The disease belongs to a spectrum of disorders referred to as “plasma cell dyscrasias” or "plasma cell neoplasms." 
  • B lymphocytes (B cells) are a type of white blood cell that normally develops into a plasma cell; B cells are found in the blood, lymph nodes and bone marrow.

Plasmacytomas. Malignant plasma cells are most commonly found in the bone marrow, but they may accumulate in any part of the body. This is known as a “plasmacytomas.” If the malignant cells form only a single tumor, it is called a “solitary plasmacytoma.” The plasmacytoma can often be cured with radiation therapy alone, but it may recur or later develop into multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma. In most patients with myeloma, the disease already involves multiple sites at the time of diagnosis. Because of this, it's often called “multiple myeloma” or “symptomatic myeloma.” 

Asymptomatic myeloma. Asymptomatic myeloma is also referred to as “smoldering myeloma” or “MGUS” (monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance). These are slow-growing types of myeloma. Since there are no symptoms at diagnosis, this type of myeloma requires monitoring but no treatment. Asymptomatic myeloma can progress to active myeloma so patients need to be checked often. 

Click here to access myeloma statistics.

For more information about myeloma and treatment, access the free booklets, Myeloma and Myeloma Guide: Information for Patients and Caregivers.

What You Should Know

  • Hematologists and oncologists are specialists who treat people who have myeloma or other types of blood cancer.
  • Treatment outcomes vary widely among patients; results depend on many individual factors.

What You Should Do

  • Talk with your doctor about your diagnostic tests and what the results mean
  • Talk with your doctor about all your treatment options and the results you can expect from treatment.
  • Ask your doctor whether a clinical trial is a good treatment option for you.

To download lists of suggested questions to ask your healthcare providers, click here.

How Does Myeloma Develop?

Myeloma develops when a plasma cell is changed (mutated). 

  • Plasma cells are made from B lymphocytes (B cells), a type of white blood cell that is found in the bone marrow. Healthy plasma cells are part of the immune system and make proteins called “antibodies,” which help fight infection.

The mutated plasma cell (myeloma cell) multiplies, and, if untreated, these cells continue to grow in the marrow. They crowd out the healthy plasma cells and the normal stem cells in the bone marrow that form the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. If not treated, the cancerous cells can:

  • Crowd out functioning white cells, and the immune system can't guard against infection effectively
  • Secrete high levels of protein in the blood and urine, which can lead to kidney damage
  • Build up in bone, causing it to weaken, which can lead to bone pain and fractures.

Risk Factors

Doctors don't know why some cells become myeloma cells and others don't. For most people who have myeloma, there are no obvious reasons why they developed the disease.

There are some factors that may increase the risk of developing myeloma, including:

  • Age - Most people who develop myeloma are over age 50 years. Fewer cases of myeloma occur in people younger than 40.
  • Sex - More males than females develop myeloma.
  • Race - Blacks have more than twice the age-adjusted incidence rate of myeloma than whites.
  • Medical History - People with a history of MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance) are at higher risk. 
  • Environment - Some studies are investigating a link between the development of myeloma and exposure to radiation; certain chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizer, Agent Orange; and certain metals such as cadmium, antimony and lead. 
  • Obesity - Research suggests that obese people have a higher incidence of myeloma.
  • Presence of chronic immunodeficiency
  • Presence of known inflammatory diseases or conditions (eg, cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes).
  • Occupation- Some studies indicate that firefighters have a statistically significant higher risk for multiple types of cancer than the general population.


Source: Myeloma. Reviewed by Marc Braunstein, MD, PhD, FACP

Related Links

  • Click here to access the NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Multiple Myeloma booklet.